John Jay Jackson,
Business, Legal and Political Activities,
1847 - 1859
By Jacob C. Baas, Jr.
The public career of John Jay Jackson, Jr. of Parkersburg extended over some six decades in western Virginia and West Virginia. His impact upon the Civil War in western Virginia, the "New State Movement," and the economic development of West Virginia was considerable. Yet, the events of Jackson's early life and private career are little known because of the apparent absence of personal papers.
From 1847 to 1859, John Jay Jackson, Jr. appeared on the business and political scene in western Virginia as the ambitious son of a prominent family. Jackson's business and political careers began almost immediately after he had completed preparations for the legal profession. From 1847 to 1859, he applied himself to a variety of business enterprises in western Virginia and held public office for a total of nine years. His public career consisted of two consecutive terms in the Virginia House of Delegates and several years' service as prosecuting attorney for Ritchie and Wirt counties. Almost without exception, Jackson's activities, whether public or private, closely paralleled those of his father, General John Jay Jackson.1 Dependence upon his father's influence and reputation continued until he received appointment as a federal judge in 1861, when circumstances demanded that he assume very different obligations.
Just as the elder Jackson's reputation benefited his son, the general's friendship with men like Gideon D. Camden, Johnson N. Camden, Jonathan M. Bennett, Peter G. Van Winkle and William P. Rathbone was an indispensable advantage. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, aside from his father, these friendships with leading business and political figures in western Virginia were the younger Jackson's greatest assets. These men were either business associates of General Jackson or related to the Jackson family, and all were helpful to the son.
Although Jackson divided his time between legal, business and political interests during these years, he was most frequently preoccupied with business activities. Indeed, his actions suggested that the advancement of personal and family business interests were usually uppermost in his mind. In contrast, Jackson's official duties as prosecuting attorney of Ritchie and Wirt counties and his two terms in the House of Delegates were merely shortŸterm ventures. From 1847-58, he indicated no aspirations for higher political office in Virginia or nationally.
Jackson began his public career in 1848 when he was elected the first prosecuting attorney of Wirt County. Several months later, twentyŸfour years old and entirely without experience in law enforcement, he was appointed to the same position in Ritchie County.2 Apparently, his father's influence was crucial in securing the position in Ritchie County. At the time of his appointment, Jackson's legal experience was limited to two years as a junior partner in his father's law office. The fact that Judge David A. McComas, a close friend of General Jackson, offered him the appointment in Ritchie County suggests the office was bestowed as a matter of personal friendship.3
Being prosecuting attorney of Ritchie and Wirt counties was not a fullŸtime occupation, and Jackson spent little time in Harrisville or Elizabeth. His presence was required only when the county courts were in session, and these sessions were ordinarily brief. As the prosecuting attorney for these counties, Jackson handled all criminal prosecutions on behalf of the state. He prosecuted a wide variety of cases, especially those involving counterfeiting, larceny and assault. The young prosecutor, although inexperienced, was very successful in gaining convictions.4
During the years Jackson served as a public official in Ritchie and Wirt counties, these areas were "invaded" by the political and business leaders of nearby Wood County. The most important political and judicial offices in these relatively new political jurisdictions were held by residents of Wood County.5 Ritchie County was formed in 1843 from portions of Wood, Lewis and Harrison counties; Wirt County was organized in 1848 from Wood and Jackson counties in the same manner.6 Ritchie and Wirt counties were prime targets for land speculators during the late 1840s and early 1850s. Men like Peter G. Van Winkle, William L. Jackson and General Jackson took advantage of the opportunities available in these counties. Frequently, they were appointed to local public offices, as in the case of John Jay Jackson, Jr. and William L. Jackson. More often, they acted with residents to speculate in land and natural resources. Although Ritchie County was not as important to the Jacksons as Wirt, they acquired a small fifty-acre holding near Harrisville. Their land ventures in Ritchie County were conducted in cooperation with General Jackson's nephew, James B. Blair.7
In Wirt County, William P. Rathbone and his sonŸinŸlaw Peter G. Van Winkle worked with William L. Jackson, Gideon D. Camden, Jackson and his father to purchase tracts of land for future speculation. Rathbone was already one of the largest landowners in the county, and the other men were either related by family ties or were business associates. Most of the land purchased by the Jacksons in Wirt County was in the vicinity of the Little Kanawha River and close to property owned by the Rathbone family.8
It was as a business partner and legal counselor rather than county prosecutor that Jackson was involved with these land speculators. Most important, he gained the friendship and confidence of men already conspicuous in business and politics. Gideon D. Camden was the judge of the TwentyŸfirst Judicial Circuit, and William L. Jackson held the same position in the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit.9 During the few years that he served as prosecuting attorney in Ritchie and Wirt counties, Jackson gained entrance into a group of men who mixed business interests and political ambitions without regard to party politics. William L. Jackson and Gideon D. Camden were wellŸknown Democrats, while Peter G. Van Winkle, General Jackson and his sons were Whigs. This difference never interfered with their cooperation in business matters of mutual interest. Jackson's career continued to benefit from these relationships until the complicated circumstances of the secession crisis interrupted business affairs and political alliances. Lack of evidence makes it impossible to determine the exact nature of Jackson's business activities in Ritchie and Wirt counties, but public records show that he and his father acquired both property and mineral interests during these years.10
The Jacksons of Parkersburg were staunch supporters of the Whig Party in state and national politics. Although many of their friends and relatives were Democrats, General Jackson and his sons chose Virginia's minority party, probably as an expression of their dissatisfaction with the domination of the eastern counties. Like many western Virginians, their political loyalties were determined more by state politics than national events. There is no evidence that General Jackson or his oldest son held any attachments for Henry Clay or other prominent Whigs as an explanation for their political loyalties. In fact, General Jackson served under Andrew Jackson in the Seminole Campaign of 1820Ÿ21 and was on friendly terms with the future Democratic president.11 As lawyers and men of property and wealth, Jackson and his father were undoubtedly in agreement with traditional Whig demands for internal improvements and soundŸmoney policies, but they were more often absorbed with local political issues.12 Throughout these years, Virginia was controlled by eastern Democrats engrossed with problems of the tariff and slavery and, therefore, not overly concerned with western demands for improved transportation. As a minority faction within a minority party, western Whigs were hardly in a position to challenge eastern interests. Similarly, western Democrats were a minority faction within their party and also unable to make their party responsive to the needs of their region.13
The major political issue for western Virginians during the 1850s was internal improvements. A few years earlier, westerners had concentrated their efforts on the "representation question" and succeeded in expanding the franchise and winning the promise of reapportionment in the Reform Convention of 1850. In spite of these concessions, the sectional antagonism remained after 1850, with the western counties resuming their demands for internal improvements, while eastern Virginians were more concerned with the slavery issue and the constitutional debate over state's rights.14 Jackson and his father, neither of whom was especially interested in the slavery question, recognized the crucial need for better transportation and concentrated their attention on this issue.15
Shortly after he resigned as prosecuting attorney of Ritchie and Wirt counties, Jackson directed his political ambitions toward the Virginia legislature. He resigned as prosecutor of Ritchie County at the fall term of the county court in 1849 and left his post in Wirt County early the following year.16 Following his father's example, Jackson sought election to the House of Delegates from Wood County. General Jackson was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1838, and reŸelected to four terms during the 1840s.17 After a generally mild and unspectacular election campaign, Jackson took his seat in the House of Delegates in January 1852 and continued to serve a second term through 1855.18 Jackson's position as a freshman delegate obligated him to act with a degree of restraint and deference toward more prominent and powerful members of the legislature. As a result, his performance during his first term appeared lackluster and passive. Nonetheless, because of reapportionment, Jackson was in a stronger position to represent the western counties than his father or any other transŸAllegheny delegate of previous years. Following the Reform Convention of 1850, the apportionment for the House of Delegates was based upon the census of 1850 with the result that western Virginia controlled 51 percent of the lower house.19 As a result, western delegates in general exercised greater control over legislative matters.
As a member of the House of Delegates, Jackson frequently acted in concert with other delegates from western counties on measures of importance to their region. Lewis County Delegate Jonathan M. Bennett was his most frequent ally and often collaborated in supporting and opposing bills and service on committees.20 Jackson was initially assigned to a seat on the Committee on County Organization, which he maintained through 1852Ÿ53. He did not exert any substantial influence as a member of this committee, but he was responsible for reporting its decisions to the full House.21 In addition to this responsibility, Jackson served on at least one special committee during the 1853 legislative session. This committee was authorized to investigate charges of discriminatory rate practices against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Jackson actively participated in the committee's deliberations and played a significant role in its final decision.22
The years from 1845 through the midŸ1850s saw important developments in internal improvements in Virginia. The transŸAllegheny region, increasingly aware of its commercial isolation, became more desirous of facilities to overcome this deficiency. During the 1830s, various turnpike and canal projects were advanced as solutions, but during the 1840s the railroad became the answer most acceptable to western Virginians.23 As western indignation rose over the lack of satisfactory transportation facilities, eastern Virginians recognized the ultimate benefits resulting from closer ties between the two regions. The Northwestern Turnpike and the James River and Kanawha Canal project were possible answers to the transportation problem, but neither proved satisfactory. Transportation systems combining different types of carriers, such as turnpikes and canals, were not feasible. Such systems were unattractive due to the expense and loss of time involved in transferring freight from one carrier to another. Moreover, railroad transportation offered superior capacity and speed.24
By 1842, the B&O reached Cumberland, Maryland and planned to extend the line west to the Ohio River. In general, westerners were enthusiastic about this project, regarding it as the answer to their problems.25 The controversy that developed over the extension of the B&O, and the accompanying struggle between eastern and western factions, was the most important aspect of Jackson's career in the Virginia legislature. Although most of the B&O controversy was resolved by the time of his election to the House of Delegates, Jackson quickly became involved in the debate and other internal improvement issues. Jackson's enthusiasm for expanding internal transportation was generally limited to projects directly affecting Wood County and his family. He was not an active participant in any of the political disputes over representation between eastern and western factions.26
Having the B&O cross into western Virginia appeared very attractive to westerners, especially in Parkersburg and Wheeling. After the B&O obtained permission to build its western route, Parkersburg and Wheeling vied as prospective sites for the western terminus. Both cities were anxious to be chosen, and representatives of each used every available method to gain preference for their city.27 In 1847, the General Assembly finally decided in favor of Wheeling.28 This decision left Parkersburg and the adjacent area without any immediate prospect for an improved transportation link with eastern markets. In spite of this setŸback, the possibility of gaining a railroad connection for Wood County was not entirely lost. The proposed route of the B&O was to extend from Cumberland to Wheeling via Grafton and Fairmont, bringing it within approximately one hundred miles of Parkersburg at Grafton. This distance would allow for the construction of a shortŸline railroad linking Wood County with the major line. Plans to achieve this goal, set in motion around 1850, aroused considerable interest in the legislature during Jackson's terms in the House of Delegates. Jackson was among the foremost proponents of this project, and he used his position in the legislature to insure eventual success.
Beginning in the midŸ1840s eastern Virginians sought to develop a closer commercial relationship between transŸAllegheny counties and the capital. The James River and Kanawha Canal project had been a means to achieve this end. With the expansion of the B&O, easterners became noticeably more reluctant to give their approval to any internal improvements program that threatened to draw the produce of the western counties out of the state.29 The B&O represented such a threat, giving the port of Baltimore an advantage over Virginia's major port at Norfolk. For these reasons, eastern interests initially obstructed the extension of the B&O and then resisted attempts to connect Parkersburg with the main line at Grafton. This reluctance so angered western Virginians that a group of delegates, representing thirteen counties surrounding the towns of Parkersburg, Weston and Clarksburg, threatened to "vote against all appropriations for railways and canals in other parts of the state" until their demands were granted.30 The ultimatum carried enough force to persuade the General Assembly to permit the incorporation of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad in 1851. The articles of incorporation listed Jonathan M. Bennett among the twelve incorporators and allowed issuance of stock up to thirty thousand dollars. Aside from Jackson, Bennett was perhaps the most persistent and enthusiastic advocate of the railroad in the House of Delegates.31
The Northwestern Virginia Railroad was a project of considerable longŸrange importance to Wood County, and offered immediate rewards for Jackson and his family. It demonstrated the Jacksons' ability to combine business and politics to the advantage of both. Immediately following his election to the House of Delegates in 1851, Jackson actively engaged in a campaign to have his father chosen president of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad Company. The first president of this railroad, James Cook of Parkersburg, was to be replaced in 1852 at the first meeting of the board of directors. By acting as his father's agent, Jackson hoped to rally the major stockholders behind General Jackson to retain Parkersburg's control of the railroad.
Jackson and Jonathan M. Bennett worked diligently, but failed to achieve this goal.32 Thomas Swann, President of the B & O, was elected president, and Bennett lost his seat on the board of directors.33 The Jacksons and their closest ally temporarily lost control of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad.
Construction of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad, begun in 1852, one year before the completion of the B&O line to Wheeling, was completed in 1857. Jackson and his father heavily invested in this railroad and would eventually realize handsome profits. Both men sold several large tracts of land in the vicinity of Parkersburg to the Northwestern Virginia Railroad.34 Approximately one year later, circumstances arose that required Jackson to use his political position to protect his investment and the economic future of Wood County. Early in 1853, rumors circulated that interested parties in Norfolk and Richmond intended to change the terminus of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad to an undisclosed point south of Parkersburg. Jackson was well aware of the consequences of such a maneuver and took immediate action. Without consulting the board of directors, he initiated action in the House of Delegates to block any proposed change of route.35 In February 1853, Jackson introduced a bill to amend the original act incorporating the Northwestern Virginia Railroad. This amendment stipulated that the new railroad could not meet the Ohio River except within the boundaries of the city of Parkersburg. Jackson and Bennett acted quickly before the opposition could be mobilized against their plan. The passage of this bill on February 25, 1853, settled any remaining questions as to the future of this railroad and protected the Jacksons' investment.36
With the Northwestern Virginia Railroad about to begin construction in 1852 and its board of directors soliciting investments, a group of eastern politicians proposed that the Commonwealth of Virginia purchase a controlling block of the railroad's securities. The major concern of this group, strongly represented by Norfolk and Richmond interests, was that the Northwestern Virginia Railroad would fall under the control of the B&O if the state did not act immediately.37 Easterners' fears were not without some basis, since at least two stockholders in the new railroad envisioned just such an eventuality. These two stockholders, Jackson and Jonathan M. Bennett, hoped to interest officials of the B&O in the Northwestern Virginia Railroad. Almost a year before, when Thomas Swann was elected president of this railroad, Jackson and Bennett tried to persuade him of the great potential of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad and asked that the B&O underwrite a portion of this venture.38 The possibility that the state might invest in the bonds of this railroad was viewed by both men as a genuine threat to its future. As members of the House of Delegates, they were in a position to exert influence to oppose such a plan and prevent its unwelcome consequences. Shortly before the beginning of construction, it appeared that the General Assembly might authorize the purchase of bonds sufficient to gain control over the Northwestern Virginia Railroad. Bennett attempted to forestall this plan by introducing a motion in the House of Delegates requesting the Committee of Roads and Internal Navigation review the feasibility of purchasing these bonds.39 During this investigation most of the bonds were sold to the B&O with the approval of the board of directors of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad.40 When completed in 1857, the B&O had financial control of a valuable transportation line that served fourteen counties and approximately sixty-three thousand people.41
Jackson was an enthusiastic proponent of transportation systems for the transŸAllegheny region, however, commitment to internal improvements was usually determined by family business interests. The Jackson family was widely respected in Wood County for their efforts to develop transportation facilities.42 Jackson never hesitated to cooperate with a friend and business associate like Jonathan M. Bennett, especially on railroad or turnpike matters, but other western Virginians failed to receive similar support. For example, Jackson and Bennett collaborated to repair the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike and bring a branch of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad into Weston.43 On another occasion, however, Jackson worked to defeat a bill to construct a railroad from Wayne County to Parkersburg.
In 1852, Wayne County Delegate Jeremiah Wellman introduced a bill for the construction of a railroad line from the Big Sandy River northward to the Northwestern Virginia Railroad at Parkersburg.44 Because the completion of this railroad would give Charleston a link with the B&O, Jackson refused to support this bill and even argued against the proposed legislation. His reasons were not entirely clear, and newspaper accounts give little insight into his motives. Possibly he believed a railroad connection with the southwestern counties offered few commercial advantages for Parkersburg. More likely, Jackson was reluctant to follow a course of action designed to benefit a city that he viewed as Parkersburg's commercial rival. Any commercial advantage Charleston would have gained over Parkersburg is debatable, but Jackson contributed to the bill's defeat by voting against the Big Sandy Railroad legislation. His actions elicited strong protests from Charleston area newspapers, but were defended in Wood County as wellŸintentioned and legitimate.45 Jackson's opposition was determined by his desire to protect the economic interests of Parkersburg. Whatever his motives, Jackson's actions revealed a selective commitment to internal improvements for western Virginia.
In contrast to his refusal to support the Big Sandy Railroad legislation, Jackson rarely missed an opportunity to act on behalf of his own county, specifically when family interests were involved. As a member of the House of Delegates, he scrutinized legislative activities that affected transportation and especially that relating to the needs of new railroads in his region. The B&O had many enemies in the General Assembly, who occasionally mounted efforts to harass and restrain this railroad. In December 1852, Hampshire County Delegate James Allen introduced a motion calling for an investigation of the line. Allen was supported by a group of eastern delegates who argued that the B&O was guilty of setting discriminatory tonŸmile rate schedules.46 The allegations accused the railroad of profiteering from unfair rates that discriminated between customers east and west of Cumberland, Maryland. Allen's motion noted that shippers east of Cumberland were penalized by the railroad, since they paid higher freight rates than shippers west of Cumberland. Amid talk of disciplinary action and the possible revocation of its charter, Allen's motion was turned over to the Committee of Roads and Internal Navigation, which was instructed to investigate the charges and recommend an appropriate course of action.47 Whether this investigation was a serious attempt to cripple the B&O or another example of eastern harassment, the line was fortunate that Jackson was a member of the standing committee.48
The Committee on Roads and Internal Navigation met only a few times before members asked that they be released from their duties because the eastern and western delegates were unable to cooperate and reach a unanimous conclusion. On February 18, 1853, the House of Delegates transferred the investigation of the railroad to a "select committee" chosen from the members of the Committee on Roads and Internal Navigation.49
Jackson, Jonathan M. Bennett and other members of the "select committee" had begun meeting during the third week of February.50 Although its sessions extended over two months, the "select committee" accomplished little more than its predecessor. Finally on April 1, 1853, deliberations ended and the "select committee" presented its conclusions to the House of Delegates. The committee split into majority and minority factions, with each preparing a separate report. Both reports recognized certain irregularities in the B&O's rate schedule, and both suggested that the Board of Public Works continue the investigation, but they differed substantially in emphasis. Jackson prepared and delivered the majority report, which cautiously and tentatively recommended further inquiries into the matter without making any solid accusations.51 The minority report made precisely the same recommendations concerning the Board of Public Works, but was openly critical of the rate schedules in question.52 Jonathan M. Bennett, in one of the few instances where he and Jackson disagreed on the subject of internal improvements was, according to Bennett's biographer Harvey M. Rice, acting on his principles and exhibited great independence of thought in this matter.53 However, Bennett, who had lost his seat on the board of directors of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad when Thomas Swann was elected president of that line the year before, might have lost his enthusiasm for the B&O.
The investigation of the B&O clearly revealed the political motives and priorities of Jackson as a member of the House of Delegates. His efforts to protect the railroad undoubtedly reflected the views of his father and other Wood County interests. Jackson's objective in this matter was not to exonerate the B&O, but to protect it by delaying any harmful, punitive actions. On April 11, 1853, the House of Delegates adopted both reports and the Board of Public Works was instructed to continue the investigation during the next session of the legislature.54 By declining to recommend any immediate or substantive action, the majority faction of the "select committee" postponed the issue for a period of months. Jackson anticipated that the controversy over rate discrimination would subside, and that circumstances would be more favorable to the B&O during the next session. That his own constituents were not among the victims of the alleged rate discrimination undoubtedly influenced his actions.
In state politics, the 1850s were difficult years for conservative Whigs like the Jacksons of Parkersburg. Aside from occasional political victories, events in Virginia appeared to be running against them. The Whig Party of Virginia traditionally embraced a conservative viewpoint that appealed to its commerceŸoriented, propertyŸconscious constituents.55 Throughout the midŸ1850s Virginia's Whigs experienced a steady decline that left many former members isolated and without effective political organization. From 1852 to 1856, the Whigs split into factions, and some members simply crossed over to the Democratic Party. Many Virginia Whigs temporarily drifted to the KnowŸNothing Party, mainly because of its support for internal improvements.56 Many prominent Whig leaders, including the Jacksons of Parkersburg, were reluctant to support KnowŸNothing candidates because of their antiŸCatholicism.57
Other former Whigs, particularly in the eastern counties, became vehemently proŸsouthern and virtually indistinguishable from "fireŸeating Democrats." For western Whigs, including Jackson and his father, the ideological extremism of proŸsouthern Whigs and Democrats was wholly unacceptable. The historic antagonism between eastern and western Virginia was only intensified by the East's growing preoccupation with secession.58
Western Whigs, who were politically isolated due to the disintegration of the party, looked for other means to express their opposition to the current leadership of the state. Following the demise of the KnowŸNothing Party in the election of 1856, many former Whigs, KnowŸNothings, and a few Republicans drifted together into a coalition known as the Opposition Party.59 Many conservative westerners were in a state of political suspension without firm attachments to any political group. There is little information concerning the political activities of Jackson or his family during these years, because none of them held political office outside of Wood County.60 With the decline of the Whig Party, the Jacksons appeared to withdraw from state politics.
The political confusion and party realignments occurring in Virginia during the midŸ1850s culminated in the gubernatorial election of 1859. This election produced a vigorous challenge to the Democratic leadership from the Opposition Party, as well as a renewal of the sectional conflict within Virginia. The Jacksons' inactivity in this campaign resulted from the choice of candidates and business interests at home.
Slavery and the continuing eastŸwest controversy were the key issues in the 1859 election. The choice of candidates reflected both parties' awareness of these issues. The Opposition Party held its nominating convention on February 10, 1859, and selected William L. Goggin for governor and Waitman T. Willey for lieutenant governor. Willey was a native of Monongalia County and a friend of the Jackson family. Goggin, an easterner, was well-known to western Virginians, but less acceptable as a candidate than Willey.61 In contrast to Willey, Goggin was outspoken in his defense of slavery. Western members of the Opposition Party disapproved of his emphasis on slavery and argued that it should not be the principal issue in this campaign. Although Jackson and his father publicly supported the Opposition Party, the choice of Goggin was a disappointment to them. Western leaders like the Jacksons were most concerned about the Wise administration's indifference toward internal improvements and allegations of corruption.62
For Virginia Democrats, the choice of gubernatorial candidates was complicated by factional rivalry within the party. The election of 1859 evolved as yet another phase of the struggle between Robert M. T. Hunter and Henry A. Wise for control of the Democratic Party. Hunter, long associated with the state's rights wing of the party, became more moderate after the death of John C. Calhoun. Wise was the more conservative of the two, and believed to be proŸwestern following his advocacy of internal improvements at the Reform Convention of 1850.63 Western Whigs and Democrats frequently supported Wise in preference to Hunter, since the latter was considered an opponent of the West. In the General Assembly's election of a United States Senator in 1852, Jackson and Bennett rallied western Whigs in an unsuccessful effort to elect Wise instead of Hunter.64 Western opposition toward Hunter continued to be the pattern until the gubernatorial contest of 1859.
Competition for the Democratic nomination was intense, and each faction advanced a candidate who reflected its particular views on major issues. The incumbent Wise faction ran Judge John W. Brockenbrough, while the Hunter group supported John Letcher. Although well-known in the western counties, Brockenbrough had never been popular in the region. More than a decade earlier, General Jackson and Jonathan M. Bennett tried unsuccessfully to block his appointment as judge of the U. S. District Court for western Virginia. Brockenbrough received the appointment to the federal bench instead of several well-qualified westerners.65 Additionally, Wise lost many westerners' confidence by the late 1850s. Several of Jackson's friends and political allies, including Gideon D. Camden and Jonathan M. Bennett, supported the Wise candidate, but many conservative former Whigs crossed over to support Letcher.66 Ironically, these conservative western Virginians backed the candidate of the "Hunter Democrats," a complete reversal of the political pattern of the previous decade that enabled Letcher to defeat Brockenbrough for the Democratic nomination.67
The outcome of Virginia's gubernatorial election of 1859 gave John Letcher a clear victory over his opponent by carrying all of the counties that comprise presentŸday West Virginia, except for the valley counties of Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson. Undoubtedly a more attractive candidate for western Virginians than Goggin, considering their respective views on slavery, Letcher received a 4,345-vote majority from this area, while the same region had only given Wise a 348 vote advantage over Thomas Flournoy in 1855.68 The candidate of the Opposition Party made a strong showing in the election but Letcher's triumph was a victory for the conservative interests in Virginia, especially in the western counties. Slavery and secession issues hurt Goggin more in the west than Letcher in the east.69 Neither Jackson nor his father declared publicly any preference for either candidate. Although both men supported the Opposition Party, they disliked Goggin and took no active part in the campaign.70 While neither party offered an acceptable candidate and a satisfactory platform, the business affairs of the Jackson family provided the real reason for their apparent disinterest in state politics.
Throughout 1859-60, the most dramatic developments in Virginia revolved around events in state and national politics: the HunterŸWise contest, the 1859 gubernatorial election, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, and the presidential election of 1860. Nonetheless, business affairs in the western counties held greater interest than politics for Jackson. Early in 1859, oil was discovered at a site along the Little Kanawha River in eastern Wirt County.71 This discovery turned the region known as Burning Springs into a booming center for land speculators and "wildcatters" within a few months. The oil boom was well underway by the end of the year, and Jackson and his father were involved from the beginning.
Jackson's involvement in business affairs during this crucial stage in state and national politics reveals his personal interests and priorities. Aside from serving as a presidential elector in 1860, there is no evidence that he left the western counties during these months. Jackson and his father had business and personal acquaintances in Wirt County that enabled them to invest profitably in land speculation early in the oil boom. Jackson's cousin, William L. Jackson was presiding judge over the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit when oil was discovered.72 It was on Rathbone's land, the largest landowner in the vicinity of Burning Springs, that the earliest and most productive wells were located. Peter G. Van Winkle, one of General Jackson's earliest law partners, was married to Rathbone's daughter and provided another link between the Jackson and Rathbone families.73 Business and personal ties with the Rathbone family proved to be a valuable asset.
By the time the Burning Springs oil boom reached its peak in late 1860, Jackson and his father were major investors in land speculation and oil drilling. Parkersburg became the commercial center of the Wirt County oil fields.74 As "oil fever" spread and larger numbers of "wildcatdrillers" descended upon this region, the advantages enjoyed by the earliest investors became more obvious. The elder Jackson never invested in any of the drilling operations at Burning Springs, apparently content to limit his activities to land speculation. His oldest son, however, was involved in almost every phase of the oil boom. One of the earliest partnerships was formed to construct a toll road from Parkersburg to the drilling area in eastern Wirt County. Included in the partnership were Johnson N. Camden, Arthur I. Boreman, William P. Rathbone and Jackson, although General Jackson may have been a silent partner. The purpose of this undertaking was to gain control over the transportation of oil taken from Burning Springs. Completed within a few months, the toll road failed to give the partners control over the transportation of oil because of the availability of other methods and routes of transportation.75
Jackson's activities at Burning Springs, as previously indicated, were not limited to a single phase of the oil business. He entered into six separate partnerships for different purposes, but usually with the same partners. Jackson formed one of the earliest drilling companies in the area in partnership with Gideon D. Camden and his nephew, Johnson N. Camden. Their agreement involved only a ten-acre site and was not profitable financially.76 His other partnerships were with William L. Jackson, William P. Rathbone and Peter G. Van Winkle. "Jackson, Camden and Company," proved of short duration, lasting only three months.77
The Burning Springs oil boom developed at a decidedly inopportune time considering the impending disruption of the Union. In comparison with political events occurring between 1859-60, the discovery of oil in Wirt County would seem to have held little importance for Jackson; yet this was not the case. Jackson observed his customary balance between his business and political interests, treating neither as separate nor exclusive endeavors; politics served business whenever possible. To determine Jackson's personal priorities, it is necessary to infer conclusions from his actions. Aside from a trip to Richmond in 1860 to cast his electoral vote, Jackson demonstrated no overriding interest in state or national politics in 1859-60 because business affairs at Burning Springs absorbed his interests.
Even the outbreak of hostilities in 1860 did not entirely upset these business relationships or Jackson's interest in commercial activities. Jackson and several of his partners occasionally speculated on property and various business ventures long after his appointment to the Federal bench in 1861. Yet, the war and his duties as a Federal judge caused Jackson to subordinate his business activities and to play a more passive role in these partnerships. Throughout the war, Jackson continued to exhibit a keen interest in the commercial affairs of his family and their business associates in western Virginia. Indeed, this pattern of behavior was remarkably consistent over the remaining forty-seven years of his life.
1. Charles Jackson, "The Jackson Family," Parkersburg News, 4 February 1926.
2. Stephen C. Shaw, Sketches of NorthŸWestern Virginia (Parkersburg: George Elleston, Job Printer, 1878), 6.
3. Judge McComas sponsored Jackson's application for admission to the Bar of Virginia and later testified as to his competency to practice law.
4. Ritchie County Order Book, Vol. I (1843Ÿ45); Ritchie County Minute Book, Vol. I (1843Ÿ48); Letter from L. H. Summers to Jacob C. Baas, 22 Jan 1973, author's possession. Mr. Summers, former clerk of the Ritchie County Circuit Court, was especially helpful in locating materials pertinent to Jackson's career as prosecuting attorney.
5. In Wirt County, the following men were members of Bar and County Court: Arthur I. Boreman, James B. Blair, James M. Jackson, John Jay Jackson, Jr., Peter G. Van Winkle and James G. Stringer. James C. Rathbone was the County Surveyor. In Ritchie County, James G. Stringer was the first county attorney, and he was succeeded by James B. Blair. All of these men, except Rathbone, were residents of Wood County. Hardesty's Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia (Chicago: H. H. Hardesty & Company, 1883), 297Ÿ98.
6. Minnie K. Lowther, History of Ritchie County (Wheeling: Wheeling News Lithograph Co., 1911), 430; Hardesty's Encyclopedia, 297.
7. There is no evidence that the Jacksons carried on extensive business activities in Ritchie County. Entries in Volumes I and II of the Ritchie County Deed Books (1848Ÿ52) show three land transactions between the Jacksons and James B. Blair, but nothing to compare with their activities during the Burning Springs "oil boom" in Wirt County.
8. Wirt County Deed Book, Vol. 4, 596.
9. Louis Reed, "Footnote to Judge Gideon Draper Camden," West Virginia History, 26(April 1965): 191.
1O. The Jacksons' landholdings in these counties amounted to over one hundred acres from 1848-56. As indicated previously, the greater part of these holdings were in Wirt County.
11. John Jay Jackson, Sr. to Andrew Jackson, 22 Sep 1821 and 12 Apr 1823, Andrew Jackson Papers, Microfilm 1113, West Virginia Univ. Library, Morgantown, WV.
12. Charles H. Ambler, Francis H. Pierpont: Union War Governor of Virginia and Father of West Virginia (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1937), 51.
14. Charles H. Ambler, Sectionalism in Virginia from 1776 to 1861 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1910), 266.
15. Parkersburg Gazette, 9 May 1851.
16. L. H. Summers to Jacob C. Baas, 22 Jan 1973.
17. Henry H. Simms, The Rise of the Whigs in Virginia, 1824Ÿ1840 (Richmond: The William Byrd Press, Inc., 1929), 184, 188.
18. The election was held in May 1851. Neither the Parkersburg Gazette nor the Parkersburg NewsŸSentinel reported much activity with regard to this campaign. Aside from advertisements furnished by the candidates, there was virtually no coverage of public speeches, debates or political rallies.
19. The ThirtyŸFifth State: A Documentary History, ed. by Elizabeth Cometti and Festus P. Summers (Morgantown: West Virginia Univ. Library, 1966), 252.
2O. Journal of the House of Delegates, Virginia, 1852, passim; hereafter referred to as House Journal.
21. Ibid., 167, 172.
22. "Minority Report of the Special Committee on the Subject of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad," Documents of the House of Delegates of the State of Virginia, 1853, No. 78, 3.
23. Virginius Dabney, Virginia: The New Dominion (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971), 219.
24. Ibid., 220.
25. Daisy E. Fultz, "Virginia Politics as Reflected in the Letters and Papers of Jonathan McCally Bennett, 1845Ÿ60," (M.A. Thesis, West Virginia Univ., 1936), 9.
26. Shaw, Sketches, 6.
> 27. I.F. Boughter, "Internal Improvements in Northwestern Virginia," (Ph.D. Diss., Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1930), 241Ÿ45.
28. Fultz, "Letters and Papers of Bennett," 10.
29. Boughter, "Internal Improvements," 250.
3O. Dabney, Virginia, 221.
32. Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1850Ÿ1851, 70; hereafter, acts of the Virginia legislature will be referred to as Acts, followed by specific year.
32. John Jay Jackson, Jr. to Jonathan M. Bennett, 12 Jul 1851, Jonathan M. Bennett Papers, West Virginia Univ. Library, Morgantown, WV.
33. Harvey M. Rice, The Life of Jonathan M. Bennett: A Study of the Virginians in Transition (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1943), 52.
34. Wood County Deed Book, Vol. 17, 169.
35. Peter G. Van Winkle to Jonathan M. Bennett, 26 Mar 1853, Bennett Papers.
36. Acts, 1852Ÿ53, 153.
37. Minter Bailey to Jonathan M. Bennett, 7 Feb 1852, Bennett Papers.
38. Fultz, "Letters and Papers of Bennett," 11; Thomas Swann to Jonathan M. Bennett, 10 Apr 1851, Bennett Papers.
39. House Journal, 1852, 535.
40. Fultz, "Letters and Papers of Bennett," 11.
41. Dabney, Virginia, 221; Boughter, "Internal Improvements," 269.
42. Parkersburg Gazette, 2 Apr 1853.
43. House Journal, 1852, 379, 456.
44. Ibid., 413.
45. Parkersburg Gazette, 19 Mar 1853; The Western Virginian, 15 Mar 1853. 46. House Journal, 1853, 109Ÿ10.
47. Ibid., 268.
48. Rice, Life of Bennett, 70Ÿ72.
49. House Journal, 1852-53, 320.
50. Ibid., 354.
51. "Majority Report of the Special Committee on the Subject of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad," Documents, House of Delegates, Virginia, 1853, No. 78, 3.
52. "Minority Report of the Special Committee on the Subject of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad," ibid., 4.
53. Rice, Life of Bennett, 70.
54. House Journal, 1853.
55. Ambler, Pierpont, 52, 62.
56. Henry T. Shanks, The Secession Movement in Virginia, 1847Ÿ1861 (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, Publ., 1934), 51Ÿ52.
57. Rice, Life of Bennett, 61Ÿ75.
58. Ambler, Pierpont, 62, 65.
59. Roland L. Sevy, "John Letcher and West Virginia" (M.A. Thesis, West Virginia Univ., 1961), 29.
60. Actually, James Monroe Jackson was the only member of the family holding a political office at the time. He was elected prosecuting attorney of Wood County in 1856. Atkinson (ed.), Bench and Bar of West Virginia, 97Ÿ98.
61. Sevy, "John Letcher," 29.
62. Fultz, "Letters and Papers of Bennett," 34; Shanks, Secession Movement in Virginia, 59.
63. Sevy, "John Letcher," 24.
64. House Journal, 1852, 73.
65. John Jay Jackson, Sr. to Jonathan M. Bennett, 20 Dec 1845, Bennett Papers; Fultz, "Letters and Papers of Bennett," 16.
66. Shanks, Secession Movement in Virginia, 101.
67. Ibid., 64Ÿ65.
68. Francis N. Boney, John Letcher of Virginia (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1966), 118.
69. William G. Bean, "John Letcher and the Slavery Issue in Virginia's Gubernatorial Election of 1858-1859," Journal of Southern History 23(1957): 46.
70. Shanks, Secession Movement in Virginia, 61; Shaw, Sketches, 7.
71. Eugene D. Thoenen, History of the Oil and Gas Industry in West Virginia (Charleston: Education Foundation, Inc., 1964), 73.
72. Reed, "Footnote," 193.
73. Thoenen, History of Oil and Gas, 14.
74. Festus P. Summers, Johnson N. Camden: A Study in Individualism (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1937), 89.
75. Thoenen, History of Oil and Gas, 21.
76. Wirt County Deed Book, Vol. 4, 596.
77. Summers, Camden, 90.
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